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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 8:23 EDT

Using Fall To Prepare For Spring With Compost, Wildflowers: Exclusive

November 19, 2013
Image Credit: Thinkstock

[ Watch the Video: How To Prepare For Spring This Fall ]

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

For some, fall and winter are the “off-seasons” for gardening, aside from raking up the leaves and burning them. However, fall can be prime time to ensure your garden looks as healthy as ever once Earth Day comes back around next spring, and redOrbit has a few tips to help you along with this process.

Fallen leaves are considered pests by many, and while raked up they make great pits for kids to jump into, ridding yourself of them can be a hassle. So instead of burning the brown leaves, why not turn them back into green by making them an investment.

Leaves can help to create great compost. Starting one in the fall will not only provide a good way to get rid of the “garbage” plant and tree leaves lying around, it also proves to be useful once spring comes back around.

The task for those living in heavily wooded areas is a little easier than everyone else. Experts at the University of Illinois suggest just leaving the leaves be, allowing nature to create “leaf litter.” Trees need leaf liter to help enrich the soil’s nutrients and quality to allow for healthy root growth.

Those of us who may not have this as a viable option can turn to a few other tricks. A lawn mower is a nice and easy way to turn leaves into mulch. Leaf mulch is dark brown and decomposes slowly to release nutrients to plants. Experts suggest either digging up soil and placing the leaf mulch into vegetable and annual flowerbeds to help improve soil quality and tilth, or just throwing them into a homemade compost pile.

Not only can raked up leaves be thrown into these compost piles, but so can plants that may have died, or vegetables and herbs that may have gone bad.

Making A Backyard Compost

Making your own backyard compost can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. Essentially, the compost pile needs to be a three-foot by three-foot container, made up of anything from poultry wire to wood. It is important to construct the bins so that air is able to reach the decomposing materials, which is a key ingredient when turning that garden garbage into spring compost.

Leaves and plants need to be chopped up, shredded or mowed before placing them into a compost bin. Doing this helps to speed up the decomposition process. Experts also recommend that the material be made up of a half green, half brown mix. Green materials, such as grass clippings or green plant parts, help to supply nitrogen, while brown materials like dead leaves are high in carbon.

Another key ingredient to brewing up the perfect compost is water. Compost material should be about the wetness of a wrung-out sponge. When a pile begins to get smelly due to the water, it means that air needs to be thrown into the mix by turning or mixing up the pile. If a pile seems too dry, then the materials will decay slower, so cover the bin to help control the moisture levels.

Compost piles will need to be turned every week or two to speed up the decomposition process, ensuring that the pile will be ripe in time for Earth Day 2014.

Planting Wildflower In The Fall

Creating a backyard compost isn’t the only project a garden enthusiast may want to do in the fall. The autumn season is actually the perfect time to plant some wildflower seeds for the spring. When you consider nature, seeds are generally planted in late summer or early fall when leaves are falling down and getting spread about by the wind.

Planting wildflower seeds in the fall allows time for the flowers to get settled into the site, making them ready to burst up and grow in early spring. Experts at American Meadows say that if the seeding is done right, then these flowers tend to pop up a few weeks before spring-planted seeds. Also, planting seeds in the fall is a little easier because weeds aren’t in the way as much, and the weather is a little more predictable.

The first step to ensuring the perfect wildflower garden in the spring is to be patient and not plant until the first killing frost has taken place in your area. For areas that may not have the plant-killing type of weather, then experts recommend planting after you are sure the growing season has come to an end.

The ground needs to be tended to before planting the seeds, so clean up the area, throw the garden garbage into the compost you have created, and till up the soil. After this, mix up a bucket of wildflower seeds with a bucket of sand in two roughly equal parts before planting. Cast this mixture over the area you hope to see bursting with color in the coming months, and then go grab the kids for the next part.

After the seeds have all been laid out, they need to be “put to bed” for winter. You can do this by squashing the seeds into the loose soil by walking over the area. The kids can help out on this part, or you may even find that a big piece of plywood is useful to squash with. American Meadows suggests getting a “lawn roller” for those really large areas.

Fall doesn’t have to be the end of gardening, but instead it could be the start of a great upcoming spring. Not only will the above steps save you a little money on buying compost for gardening next year, but they are a great way to help preserve the wildflowers that are being threatened by construction.